Ticket first, ask questions later. Thatís city policy when it comes to minor code violations at small businesses, according to Public Advocate Bill deBlasio óand other officials, civic leaders and mom-and-pop shopkeepers themselves. It makes you wonder if the Bloomberg administration is actively trying to destroy small business in the city.
Bloomberg gave Goldman Sachs tax breaks worth more than $200 million to keep the financial services giant in lower Manhattan. He gave FreshDirect a $128 million package of tax breaks and subsidies when it moved from Long Island City to the Bronx, to ensure it didnít leave New York.
But small businesses just get hit with more and more tickets each year. Revenue from fines for code violations has increased from about $485 million to nearly $820 million during Bloombergís tenure, according to de Blasio.
Fed up with the administrationís increasing reliance on summonses for minor offenses ó those that donít impact health or safety ó for revenue, deBlasio has made defending the small business owner a hallmark of his tenure. In doing so, he has lived up to the promise of the title he holds, has proven the worthiness of an office some critics say is unnecessary and has begun to carve out a good position for his uphill run for mayor next year.
DeBlasioís latest move is taking the city to court to gain access to records he has been refused. He wants to know all the details about its ticketing practices, specifically how violations are prioritized, what kinds of businesses get hit the most and what neighborhoods are most often targeted.
We applaud the public advocate for not backing down and insisting on getting the data. We also note that the move will help de Blasio position himself as the small-business candidate in next yearís race for mayor.
Everyone knows that with online companies like Amazon not needing to pay for expensive retail space, itís getting harder for traditional brick-and-mortar operations to compete on prices. Excessive fines ó like the $250 bill a florist can get hit with for displaying flowers on the sidewalk, or the $250 charge a retailer might get for not having its return policy clearly posted at each register ójust make it tougher. They can force layoffs, for one thing, when the city unemployment rate is already 10 percent. In the worst cases, which are all too common, they can drive a mom-and-pop shop out of business altogether, leaving one more family without a source of income and degrading one more block with another vacancy.
Earlier this year a fire inspector showed up at the Chronicleís offices to dole out three summonses of $5,000 each for the air conditioners that have been on our roof for at least 18 years. All our neighbors here on our block of Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park got hit with the same tickets. Just the threat of thousands of dollars in fines for something a business has been doing for two decades can have a chilling effect on anyone considering opening a store or office.
ìWhen you start a business, they should give you a rule book, but they donít,î says Tony Nunziato, a florist in Maspeth and former candidate for City Council. Heís right. And so is de Blasio when he says business owners should be allowed to contest violations online, over the phone or by mail, insteading of having to show up in person; and that they should be allowed to fix minor, first-time violations without being fined.
Bloomberg has built his private business into a worldwide behemoth valued at more than $20 billion. But even he started as a small businessman, and he should remember that fact when determining policy, and support the little guy as much as he does Goldman Sachs and FreshDirect.